16 Kayakers, Drivers and Paddleboarders Rescued from Santa Ana Winds

Santa Ana winds swept six kayakers out one mile from the Malibu coast on Sunday morning, causing a multi-agency response, aided by Good Samaritans, including three lifetime Malibu residents, who rescued the kayakers from rough water. 

In two other subsequent incidents, four paddleboarders and six divers also had to be saved from the waters off Malibu. 

“It was crazy; we had Ventura County Fire, LA County Fire, including lifeguards and air ops., we had our rescue boat, the LA County lifeguards had a personal watercraft, State Parks had a boat in the water, US Coast Guard had a boat out,” Lifeguard Capt. Dan Murphy said of the kayaker rescue. 

According to Murphy, the call to lifeguards came in at around 8:15 a.m. on Sunday, when private boats picked up two kayakers who had been blown out to sea in the high winds. The kayakers, three separate groups of two, had all set out from County Line Beach earlier that morning. 

“I was on the boat with Roth Johnson and Josh Spiegel,” said Brian Rapf, one of the civilian rescuers. “We’re all thankful we were in the right place at the right time and able to help out other people that were definitely in need of help.” 

Malibu High grads Johnson, Spiegel and Rapf were fishing for yellowtail off a 22-foot vessel that morning, captained by Johnson, when they spied the kayakers. 

“We recognized what was happening immediately, and within 30 seconds of recognizing what’s happening and pulling our anchor, we get a call from [Fire] Station 56 on channel 16, which is the international radio channel for emergencies,” Johnson said. 

Firefighters at Ventura County Fire Station 56 would not confirm that they sent an alert to civilians to aid in the rescue. 

By the time Malibu Baywatch arrived on scene at 8:30 a.m., other agencies had already begun their effort shuttling kayakers to shore. Then began the process of accounting for how many kayakers were swept out in the winds, which according to Murphy were sustained at 30-40 mph with “some gusting much greater.” 

“Other resources started arriving,” Murphy said, “at this point we started searching for other potential victims.” 

Of the six distressed male kayakers that were taken ashore, one was in need of medical attention but none were in need of medical transport. 

“One of them was suffering from some exposure related stuff and was seen by the paramedics and the ambulance crew and released at the scene,” Murphy stated. 

In total, the rescue involved 28 professional rescuers, and what Murphy called a “number of Good Samaritans.” 

These Good Samaritans did not include a charter boat out of Channel Islands Harbor, which according to eyewitnesses left the scene without aiding in the rescue efforts. 

Later in the day, the same winds caused four stand-up paddle boarders originating out of Malibu Colony to be swept out in a similar circumstance. 

“They were found near shore, got caught up in the wind and were not able to return,” Murphy said, adding that “all four were safely returned.” 

On Monday morning, five scuba divers and one free diver were safely rescued by LA County Lifeguards off Nicholas Canyon Beach. Lifeguards confirmed that rough conditions caused by high winds were also the factor in that incident. 

With seasonal high winds, lifeguards recommend caution when it comes to water recreation. 

“Know the conditions and check in with lifeguards before getting in the water,” Murphy said. 

“You need to keep in mind that conditions are variable and they’ll be changing throughout the day, so a weather forecast would be really useful,” Murphy added. 

“It went from wonderful day in the neighborhood to an emergency situation really quickly,” Johnson said. 

Rapf agreed. “It got really windy and really fast. It got dangerous in a hurry.” 

“It’s just a reminder that the ocean is a force to be reckoned with and you need to make sure you’re prepared with proper safety gear,” Rapf said, “At least one of the kayakers didn’t have any cell phone, radio or emergency beacons, which is scary because the ocean looks all nice and pretty but you need to be prepared for things to go wrong because they do go wrong.” 

When things went wrong, however, Johnson and Rapf agreed that first responders were well-equipped for ocean rescues. 

“They’re the most competent people I’ve ever seen out there. The lifeguards out there on the jet skis were absolute studs,” Johnson said, “They did a really great job, and my hat’s off.” 

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